Still the Best Policy

honesty 3Honesty. 

I picked it as Blue Jai’s Word of the Month for September, because here in the Great Southern Land September coincides with the arrival of spring. As I’ve said before, I think that this time of year is great for making resolutions — for me, September is about fresh starts and new beginnings.  And coming hot on the heels of last month’s examination of habits, I thought a decent dose of honesty would not go astray.

Honesty is something I associate with one of the Big Ones: TRUTH.  We all know that truth is up there with love, and beauty, and all the other things that Julian Sands’ character yells out the window in A Room With a View…not that I can recall even half of them now.

And honesty is a direct path to truth.

Except when it’s not…

Sometimes it’s a twisting, turning, back-tracking path, completely lacking signposts yet somehow full of potholes and pitfalls.

honesty 2It can be difficult to be honest, particularly with ourselves. Sometimes it’s easier to believe our own internal rhetoric, even when it’s untrue. Perhaps you’re a person who consistently underestimates the time a task will take to complete and, as a result, frequently fails to meet deadlines. Maybe you’re someone who takes on new things even when you’re at maximum capacity, and know that something else (usually you or those you hold most dear) will suffer as a result. Or, quite possibly, you might be the type who gives in to that invasive voice in your head telling you that if you do five minutes less on the treadmill no one will ever know. (That same voice is equally insistent about eating the second cookie, by the way…)

It’s not always easy to look yourself or someone else in the eye and speak the truth: doing so requires a combination of courage and compassion. But I believe we benefit greatly, both personally and professionally, when we bring honesty to the forefront of our dealings: with friends and family, with clients and colleagues, with everyone we interact with.

So this spring, I invite you to approach yourself, your life and the many and varied people in it with new honesty.

Turn your face the morning sun, and to thine own self be true.

honesty 1

Every Single Day…

habitSome time ago, I was reading a book by Gretchen Rubin when I came across this phrase: The days are long, but the years are short.

These words resonated with me — not least because at the time that I read them, I was the mother of two pre-schoolers. My days seemed to be filled with repetitive, mindless tasks that revolved around keeping my children happy, healthy and (by obvious extension) clean, and that work — because it definitely is work — was often relentless and mind-numbing. The days were long (and the nights could be even longer), but the years were flying by with alarming rapidity.

Don’t get me wrong: being a parent is — without question — the single most rewarding role I have ever taken on, and this post is not about to descend into an extended diatribe about just how hard those long days and nights can be. (Besides, in my experience, even when a child has behaved absolutely diabolically while awake, that same child can somehow, miraculously, completely restore your faith in and love for them once they are soundly asleep — particularly if they stay that way for an extended period.)

No, the reason I recall that maddening yet magical part of my life is because I chose HABIT as Blue Jai’s Word of the Month for August.

What now? Parenting is a habit?

Not at all. But I have been reading Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before, which tackles habits and habit formation head on, and brought to my mind the wisdom of the ancients, specifically this observation from Aristotle:

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

Now that my children are growing up and increasingly self-sufficient, I would prefer not to think about the tasks I performed with increasing Aristotelian excellence when they were smaller, save to say — as a random example — that I reckon I could wrangle just about any kid into a five-point harness car seat while blindfolded. Possibly even one handed.

habit 2Aristotle’s adage did make me think, however, about the things that I repeatedly do now — because these, my friends, are my habits. Sure, there’s all the obvious basic personal hygiene and basic living habits like showering daily, cleaning my teeth morning and night, eating a decent breakfast, that sort of thing. But what else, I wondered, do I do every single day?

Well, I read…and I write…and…if I’m totally honest I probably check my social media accounts…

I mean, what do you do every single day?!

And that brought me to another one of Aristotle’s little gems: Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.

When we know ourselves, we know what repeatedly do. We recognise our habits, good and bad, and know which of these we want to cultivate with further repetition and which we want to eliminate. One of my friends, for example, makes a habit of keeping a gratitude journal, of taking time each evening to record what she is grateful for every single day. She also encourages her children to say what they’re grateful for too, and even if they don’t yet write it down she’s hoping, by repetition, to help instil the same habit in them.

Another friend makes herself a properly brewed cup of coffee every single morning. For her, this is a good habit: not only is it something that she enjoys drinking, but she also enjoys the ritual of making it. For her, it is an important act of self care (not to mention the fact that it provides a caffienated kick-start to her day). And that’s where self-knowledge kicks in too — my friend also knows that drinking coffee all day long is not good for her (or anyone), so she relishes that morning cup all the more.

Needless to say, the same combination of repetition and self-knowledge can assist in a business setting, too. Religiously checking your business bank balance won’t improve your cashflow, for example, but billing clients regularly, offering multiple methods of payment and chasing your debtors often will all help. It’s about knowing what you need to do, and repeating the necessary actions to make those things happen.

So I ask again: what do you do every single day?

Does it match up with what you know you could be doing every day?

Because, just like when I wrote about eudaimonia and human flourishing, I think those ancient Greeks were onto something. Sure — for a modern take on it, check out Gretchen Rubin’s book (she really does unpack the whole habit bag, even if I did get slightly annoyed about her frequent references to wearing yoga pants all the time), but I think — as usual — what we’re all aiming for is what human beings have been aiming for for thousands of years. And yes, the Greeks had a word for it too:

 

habit 3

So I wish you well with all those things you do repeatedly this August, and with the habits your self-knowledge asks you to cultivate in the future.

Sophrosyne here we come!

Purple Nails

purple nails

Not my hands, but you get the general picture.

I found myself sitting in a nail bar in a suburban shopping mall the other day, snatching a few moments of time for myself following several screamingly busy weeks I had scheduled down to the last minute. The washing was on the line, drying beneath yet another blue-skied day in this bone dry, drought-stricken land. The kids had been deposited at school, one dressed for a regular day and the other for an excursion. The overseas guests who had stayed with us during a whirlwind visit had been dropped safely at the airport following a quick trip to Taronga Zoo ticking all the tourist boxes: kangaroo, koala, even a spotted quoll.

“Pick a colour,” said the nail technician, brandishing brandishing wheels of fake plastic nails painted an unimaginable variety of shades in my direction.

I attempt to comply, but I am tired. Weary. Nearly undone. Decision fatigue has set in, and instead of selecting a tried and tested shade of something sensible I find myself searching for my favourite colour — a rich, deep blue shot with pewtery grey. The colour of my bridesmaid’s dress at my wedding, a dozen years ago. The colour of the sea after a storm.  As you wish…

I find it, or something vaguely resembling it, and sit silently in my chair as my fingers soak, letting the sounds of the technicians’ murmured conversations wash over me. They are speaking a language I don’t understand, pausing every now and then to give me and the women around me simple instructions in English. Hand in the water. Out again. This I can do, in my depleted state. This is why I am here.

The technician begins applying paint to my nails.

“OK?” she asks.

I look down, and instead of a comforting shade of grey-blue twilight I see a slash of purple.

Vivid, vibrant purple.

I shrug, and find myself nodding. My simple act of self-care has gone slighty awry, but I’m too tired to care.

In the week that follows it dawns on me that I am not in possession of a single stitch of purple clothing. I also realise that the particular shade of purple my nails are now painted attracts attention. That my fingertips now convey the impression of an extroversion I can feign but do not feel.

purple boy

My new favourite book. Ever.

I retreat into myself, into the solitary pursuits that I savour — reading, writing, day dreaming and night thinking. Here I find the acts of self-care that actually restore me, and I notice one morning that my purple nails do match something after all: the cover of the book I’m reading, Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe.

I am captivated — catapulted into a world that consumes me, into writing that overwhelms me to the point that I am forced to acknowledge that I might just have a new favourite book of all time.

Boy Swallows Universe.

Girl swallows book.

Later in the evening, only hours after the nail technician has finished polishing my freshly painted purple nails to a bright sheen, I’m dropping my younger child at a birthday party. A small blonde-haired boy, about four years old, is beginning to wail: it’s his sister’s big day, and he’s feeling left out.

“Hey, matey,” I crouch conspiratorially in front of him, “I had my nails painted today, and they’re not a normal colour. They’re not red, or pink, or anything boring like that. Do you know what colour they are?”

He eyes me suspiciously for a moment, still sniffing, but the distraction is working.

“Bet you can’t guess!”

He stops crying and grasps my hands, turning them over to reveal my purple fingernails, gleaming in the dusk and the light of the bright sunshine of the smile that is now plastered across his tear-streaked face.

“You’re funny!”

Yeah, I reckon I probably am.

Funny as in ha ha sometimes, and funny as in a bit weird at others. But I’m OK with it, and I’m OK with my introversion, and my need to let the words pour out of me, and with knowing that my solace comes from solitude, and that I come from a long line of drama queens and control freaks, and despite all that — or perhaps because of it — I’m even OK with my purple nails.

Laser Beams & Drishti Points

Focus is a funny, occasionally unpredictable, thing — and that’s one of the reasons I chose it as Blue Jai’s Word of the Month for July.

Take this image, for example:

focus

What did you focus on?

Was it the cars in the street, so far below? Or did you spot the coffee first, or the hand holding the mug? Or perhaps your eye was drawn to the reflection of the clouds within the cup?

There are no right or wrong answers here — it’s just a simple way of pointing out that we all see and experience the world differently, and that our circumstances and personalities and a multitude of internal and external factors cause us to focus on different things. That means that your focus is unique: it’s peculiar and particular to you.

But what I find fascinating (because of my own peculiar and particular focus, no doubt) is that there are different types of focus, too.

I’m not talking about different types of focus in a photographic sense, but in more of a “mental toolbox” sort of way. Because I know that I need different kinds of focus to perform different tasks. For me, focus is something you might measure on a spectrum.

Part of the reason I chose focus as my Word of the Month because I knew it was something I would need in abundance in July — and different kinds of focus, too. This month, I knew I needed to complete a whole pile of deadline-based tasks for my regular job as well as to honour a bunch of equally pressing commitments for clients in my freelance work, and fit all this around the time my children would be off school for Winter Holidays. Oh, and celebrating both their birthdays, too.

No pressure?!

focus laser

Pick your point and get it done…this is laser beam focus.

Now, I’m the first one to admit that a large part of getting things done is simply to being organised and doing what you need to do, but choosing your focus certainly helps.

At one end of the spectrum is Laser Beam Focus, which I would describe as being single minded, incredibly intense, and very specifically directed. Like laser beams themselves, this kind of focus has to be coherent, meaning it has to remain spatially and temporally constant. It’s an amplified kind of focus, and not something that is sustainable for long periods — we’re human beings, after all. That said, it’s fantastic if you’re screaming towards a deadline and really need to get something done.

focus drishti

Drishti point focus…not sure whether I’d be able to pull it off in these circumstances!

At the other end of the spectrum is Drishti Point Focus, which comes (as with many things I love) from yoga. Drishti translates from Sanskrit as focused gaze, but it relates also to pratyahara and dharana, the fifth and sixth limbs of yoga, which relate to sense withdrawal and concentration. In the yogic tradition there are nine different drishti points, but most of us who do yoga regularly will probably think of the spot you gaze at in the middle distance to help you find a combination of strength and ease within a pose — particularly if it involves balancing. For me, drishti point focus is active, but it is also characterised by softness and a meditative stillness. It’s focus alright, but it’s a sustainable and nourishing sort of focus.

So my suggestion for July? That you look at your to do list and apply whatever focus from the spectrum you need to get things done. Know that there are multiple solutions to each and every task and as many ways to focus on them as there are human beings, and that part of what makes your work and life your own is that you bring your unique focus to it and to everyone you meet.

 

We Need More Words

qualityThe Bloke and I don’t fight often. We’ve spent the better part of twenty years happily muddling along, quietly delighting in our continued coexistence.

But every now and then — because we’re real, normal human beings — we have a bit of a barney. Generally speaking these arguments are not over anything particularly controversial (such as just how many surfboards/boogie boards/random vessels of an inflatable variety a family of four might actually require on a weekend away), but last night…well, it was a different story.

We were watching Nanette, Hannah Gadsby’s hour-long stand up show, a vertiable tour de force explaining why she is choosing to leave comedy behind. Nanette is, simply, brilliant: it is a brutally honest and unbelievably courageous piece of story telling. It is also, in parts, uncomfortable viewing — particularly if you’re a straight, white male who has just been watching Season Two of Glow, complete with its depiction of a Harvey Weinsteinesque “meeting” involving a young and vulnerable actress, and if you had also happened to top that experience off by taking a look at Andrew Denton’s Interview with Tim Winton (the one who wrote my favourite book) speaking about toxic masculinity.

Straight, white male.

Now we all know that the straight, white male segment of the population is copping a bit of a caning at the moment. With good reason, of course — and let’s be clear: in my view, there’s nothing wrong with challenging a long-established framework of white, male privilege that has been propped up by centuries of patriarchy and misogyny. And I, as a straight, white female, last night felt the need to point out that those structures were the very things that silently condoned straight, white men heckling or wolf-whistling at me when I was a schoolgirl, walking past a construction site at the top of the street I lived in. That allowed a crowded platform of commuters to stand by and ignore the straight, white man who tried to look up my skirt, and who failed to assist me when he followed me onto the train. That normalised regular pay increases for the (overwhelmingly) straight, white male professionals in several firms in which I worked and did not even bother to schedule salary reviews for the (overwhelmingly) female support staff.  That continues to impose a tax on women’s sanitary products…but let me stop there. I could, as most women could, go on and on.

Straight, white male.

These were the words that sparked our disagreement, along with the onslaught being fairly and squarely directed at that particular segment of the population.

Because The Bloke identifies as a straight, white male — and, while I can’t dispute his logic, last night I also felt the need to point out that I don’t view him through that prism at all. I felt the need to explain that if he had been the sort of straight, white male who is currently — and with good reason — being called to account, I would never even have considered dated him, let alone marrying him. That I don’t believe him to be a misogynist. That I certainly don’t perceive him to be anything like Donald Trump.

I explained to The Bloke that when I look at him, I see a successful business owner who pays his male and female staff equally. I see a husband who consistently treats me as an equal in our life partnership. I see a father who is helping to raise two daughters to be the best human beings they can be. I see a person who frequently helps with housework and does not delineate duties on the basis of gender. I see a man who is willing to draw attention to language, attitudes and behaviours towards women that are unacceptable. I see a…feminist.

Feminist?!

Initially, The Bloke wasn’t quite sure what to make of that word, either, being aware of the many and varied connotations and convictions attached to it. But — because of the man he is — The Bloke listened to me and not only heard, but also made sure he understood my point of view.

unityAnd that’s where Hannah Gadsby is absolutely right — we need more words, people.

We need a multitude of words.

We need more words to describe the men who might, quite literally, be straight, white males, but who are also men whose own language, attitudes and behaviours are helping to dismantle the architecture of straight, white, male privilege. Men who support and empower women and girls not because they are female, but because they are human beings, and who encourage other men and raise their sons to do just the same. Men who, in my life, I feel fortunate to call father, brother, mentor, friend.

We need more words to define the things that unite us and celebrate all the things we hold in common — not more labels, or pigeonholes, or tiny little compartmentalised boxes.

We need more words.

Stairways & Stepping Stones

Steps 4It’s winter where I live.

The shortest day has already slipped past, sinking silently into the darkness. Even the stars look cold and distant, silver points of light piercing the fast-falling night sky.

I’ve written about winter before, probably because I am fascinated by the passing of the seasons — such as they are in this Great Southern Land. I’ve also written about winter being a time for self-care, though this year I’m looking at it from a different persective — through the prism of Blue Jai’s Word of the Month for June: ALIGNMENT.

Steps 2The word alignment comes from the French words à ligne, which translate as ‘into line’. For me, it instantly conjures up images of perfectly spaced poplar trees, of soldiers standing to attention, of lane ropes skimming the surface of a swimming pool.

But then, immediately afterwards, it occurred to me that lines are not always straight — and that the words ‘into line’ do not imply that those lines are horizontal, vertical, or parallel. Alignment, then, does not have to be something ruled or rigid.

Steps 1I then thought about lines in nature — of the fiddleheads of ferns and the inside of seashells and other swirling curves that fit the Fibonacci sequence. I thought of nights I spent in the Northern hemisphere, watching the sinuous lines of the Aurora Borealis. I thought of human spines, of all our vertibrae arranged in concave and convex curvatures.

And then I thought of stairways and stepping stones, and saw these as a simple yet effective metaphor for making sure we keep putting one foot in front of the other to get to where we want to go. Doing so depends on preparing for each step, keeping our balance, and moving forward.

We are best equipped to take those steps — and sometimes even leaps — when we live and work in alignment with our goals and our First Principles. When we do this, unforeseen obstacles become easier to deal with: instead of seeing them as insurmountable, we simply make the necessary adjustments to bring ourselves back into alignment with our path once more.

So this June, and all this winter, I wish you well on your journey — one step at a time, onwards and upwards, in alignment with your path, however straight or curved it may be.

Steps 3

Onwards!

momentum 2

Momentum demands movement.

It’s May, already.

And not only that, its coming towards the end of May.

Can you believe it?

The year is rolling on — faster and faster, I sometimes feel — and Blue Jai’s Word of the Month is MOMENTUM.

I’ve been more than usually busy lately, which is why I haven’t written this post until now, but while I’ve been busying myself with the various balls I’m managing to keep in the air at the moment I’ve been contemplating the nature of momentum and how important it is to being successfully busy, and successful in business, too.

And my musings have made me draw the following conclusions about momentum:

  • In physics, the law of momentum states that an object in motion will stay in motion until it meets a resisting force. To my mind, identifying the resisting forces in your world and finding ways to smooth them out will ensure that you keep moving forward. Eliminate distractions, and focus on what brings you closer to your aims.
  • Momentum, to me, is also something that builds. One of the things that enables me to build momentum is knowing the basic (often repetitive) tasks that I need to accomplish to ensure my day flows. Attending to these tasks enables me to create a more rhythmic approach to my day, and momentum often follows.
  • Finally, momentum demands movement — in order to create it, you have to be moving towards something.  So even when you have days when you don’t want to get out of bed, just do it. Keep on moving!

So this May, my challenge to you is to find your path, remove the resistance, and build your own momentum.

Onwards!

momentum 1

Eliminate distractions and resistance, and move towards your goals.